The hidden strengths of clams
Spending most of their lives buried in streambeds, clams can be easy to miss. You could wade across a dense bed of them without noticing. An observant snorkeler might see scattered shells and pairs of holes in the river bottom where the creatures’ siphons pierce the sediment.
Yet even though they’re hunkered out of sight, clams shape ecosystems. They funnel food downward, fueling life in the riverbed and clarifying water for other species. They help to mitigate nutrient pollution, a widespread problem that leads to dead zones in some waters.
Where to find clams
I decided to start in the sand and then muck my way through the mud. They’re not deep, sitting between 4 and 8 inches below the surface. When they’re hungry, steamers extend their syphon above the terrain and filter food from the water. They squirt water, that dimple in skinny water or a spout on a dead low tide tells you where to dig.
Anyhow, hard clams like coves and estuaries, and that usually means mud so soft that you’ll sink knee-deep with every step. It’s tough sledding to a degree, but the real rub comes when you pull your foot from the ooze. Walking barefoot in the summer is fine, but if you’re wearing hip boots in the fall, be sure to add a zip-tie around the ankle of your boot. It’s no fun to pull your foot out of your waders.
Dig them with a hoe-like scratcher or muck around until you feel them with your feet. Before you add them to your bucket, have a look at the shells. Hard clams have growth rings and can be aged just as you would count rings on a tree stump. Each ring is a year, and if you find a remote, rarely harvested motherlode, you may find some clams that are over 30 years old.
Get a scratcher, a bushel basket, a clam gauge, and go. Prime shellfish quality is from September through May. The summer months are when shellfish breed, and while they’re still edible, they’re not as tasty due to reproduction.
Get a scratcher, a bushel basket, a clam gauge, and go.
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